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It’s not often a franchise doesn’t get to its title character until 21 films in. Yet, finally, Captain Marvel joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2019. The film — directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck — overcame a great deal of controversy in some circles to become one of the MCU’s biggest hits. Naturally, a sequel is now officially on the way with star Brie Larson back.

The first film’s billion-dollar success is more impressive when you consider how much heavy lifting Captain Marvel had to do. It’s set in the 1990s, which means it serves as a prequel to nearly the entire MCU. Plus, although the film mostly takes place on Earth, Captain Marvel is a cosmic adventure. And it needs to introduce a corner of space we’ve never seen before, namely the Skrulls.

The cast and crew of 'Captain Marvel' at the premiere
The cast and crew of ‘Captain Marvel’ at the premiere | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

‘Captain Marvel’ introduced the Skrulls in a surprising way

In the comics, the Kree/Skrull war is a major storyline. However, Marvel Comics makes a clear delineation between the warrior-heroes of the Kree and the monstrous Skrulls. In Captain Marvel, that conflict is initially depicted in much the same way. Carol Danvers (Larson) fights on behalf of the Kree, believing she’s on the just and righteous side.

But midway through Captain Marvel, the film shifts the pendulum the other way. Rather than demonizing the Skrulls, we discover Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and his people are actually refugees in search of a home. Their homeworld destroyed in the battle with the Kree, the Skrulls make an instant flip from villains to allies.

This decision might frustrate purists of Marvel Comics. But it’s still an effective way to subvert expectations and comment on the subjectivity of war. Carol even finds her mentor, Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), was Mar-Vell — a Kree scientist who went rogue — all along. The Skrull twist informs the story just as it did the film’s development.

The Skrulls were originally supposed to look much creepier

With any MCU release, a ton of work happens during the pre-production process. For instance, we’ve heard a lot about how, for Avengers: Endgame, the role and appearance of Captain Marvel herself changed quite a bit. First, her entrance into the final battle was entirely reworked. Then her suit was changed to better reflect the time difference between films.

In both cases, the reason behind the changes was based on story. We suspect that’s also why Marvel ultimately didn’t go with an early design for the Skrulls. Artist Ian Joyner recently posted some concept art for the Skrulls to his Instagram. As Joyner admits, this look was intended for the Skrull soldiers and was far from final. But judging by how Captain Marvel plays out, it makes sense why the filmmakers would downplay the horror.

This early concept art makes the Skrulls look much more menacing than they do in the final film. The steep curve of their faces and sharp angles indicate a sinister nature that is, ultimately, unwarranted in the finished film. Complicating matters further, this Skrull design appears to share elements with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame baddie Ebony Maw as well as the Green Goblin.

How will the Skrulls affect Phase 4?

On a more practical note, this particular design for the Skrulls would have also been hard to pull off with make-up. In Captain Marvel, Mendelsohn and the other Skrull actors are clearly wearing prosthetics. This is much cheaper than rendering these characters through CGI. Plus, the more human shape of their heads and faces creates a smoother transition for their shape-shifting ability.

Speaking of which, fans are convinced we haven’t seen the last of the Skrulls. In the comics’ “Secret Invasion” storyline, many fan-favorite characters are revealed to be Skrulls. The alien race, it seems, had been slowly invading Earth over time. The post-credits scene for Spider-Man: Far from Home also indicates the Skrulls have a larger role to play in Phase 4.

How though will this fit with the way the characters are introduced in Captain Marvel? Will the dynamic between the Kree and Skrulls switch back again, with the latter as villainous? Perhaps Talos and his group are the benevolent exception to what actually is a monstrous race. We’ll find out soon enough, hopefully.